Monday, April 26, 2010
Does this sort of thing go on in the NFL? I somehow don't think so.
It's a big opera week for me. Tomorrow I travel to New York City for my final two Metropolitan Opera dates of the season, both new productions this year: Rossini's Armida tomorrow night; and Bizet's Carmen on Wednesday.
On Friday night in Boston, Boston Lyric Opera closes its season with Mozart's very grand Idommeneo, based on the ancient Greek version of the Biblical Abraham and Isaac story set in the aftermath of the Trojan War. And a week from tomorrow Opera Boston closes its season with Offenbach's send-up of the Second Empire French government and military, La Grande Duchesse de Gerolstein -- written three years before all the laughter and frou-frou ended with the disaster for France of the Franco Prussian War.
There's a great story about the Paris premiere of La Grande Duchesse in 1867 that sums up some of the madness of Napoleon III's France. The great Paris Exposition was going on at the same time and Empress Eugenie decided to attend incognito to avoid being mobbed. A nice but rather plain carriage pulled up to the special Dignitaries' Gate at the Exposition with the Empress in a nice but not too ostentatious day dress inside. The guards asked for identification of the lady and were told it was the Empress of France. The guards went into hysterics, informed the coachmen that they weren't born yesterday, and turned her away.
Later in the afternoon, a magnificent carriage with solid silver fittings, silk brocade upholstery, and a handsome team of horses pulled up. Knowing eyes would have recognized it as "the wages of sin". The guards asked for identification of the lavishly gowned, bejeweled lady inside and were told by the coachmen that it was Madame, la Grande Duchesse de Gerolstein. With profound bows to the lady inside the coach, the guards opened the gates and ushered in Hortense Schneider, actress, singer, one of the great courtesans of Paris, and star of Offenbach's riotous new comedy.
There is a wonderful book on the Second Empire, John Bierman's "Napoleon III and His Carnival Empire". The title almost says it all, but it's well worth reading because truly unbelievable things went on during his reign. Amazon has it used for $1.53.
New additions to the property: I bought two new compost bins from the town, which they were selling for just under half of their normal price. One is up by the garden terraces on the hillside, and the other is here next to the new firewood shed I built, and convenient to the kitchen door so we can compost our fruit and vegetable waste.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
I've got a good non-drowsy allergy tablet that's a big help; good, strong coffee a couple of times during the day works wonders as well.
We woke up to find this garter snake stretched out along the base of the wall next to our front door.
It was the biggest snake we've ever seen on the property.
The little chickadees decided not to move into the birch bird house after checking it out, but a pair of birds, variety yet to be determined seem to have taken over a nest on a crossbeam under the bridge joins the second floor to the top of the "cliff" behind the house. As long as they don't start eating the place up, we're very happy to have little creatures living here along with us.
The restoration complete, our Manly Gardener has been placed on his pedestal in the middle of one section of the new herb garden. Backed by the rich amber of the rock, he stands out quite strikingly. We're hoping that our plants arrive some time early in May.
I've cut stakes labeled with the name of each tree and shrub and will start locating them on the hillside this weekend so I can get holes dug in advance.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Of course, he jumped a little when I gasped and exclaimed “Opera News! You’re reading OPERA NEWS.” I mean, this is the man who once accompanied his then-boyfriend and two friends to a performance of Bellini’s Norma starring Beverly Sills, a production that huge numbers wanted to see but couldn’t get tickets, and told me he was bored out of his skull. The man who agreed to come with me to Puccini’s Tosca, updated to Mussolini’s Rome (Tosca was very Wallis Simpson, Scarpia a wonderfully sexy brute) and said afterwords, why didn’t they just get on with it? (My reply was, “My darling -- girl meets tyrant, girl kills tyrant, girl jumps off building. How much faster do you want?”)
!t turns out that he had caught sight of the Sydney Opera House on the cover of the magazine and, having lived in Sydney for a year early in his career, was interested to see if there was more about the city inside. I’ve been kidding him about it ever since – making sure he gets the New England Opera Club mug when I set the breakfast table, etc., etc.
It doesn’t bother me at all that he isn’t into opera. He, like I, has been strongly into theater personally and professionally; for the rest I think it’s healthy for couples to have one or two separate interests. Nevertheless, a couple of my friends rushed to console me for what they thought must be a great disappointment in my relationship, and assured me that I could “train” Fritz to like opera. “Yeah,” I said to one of them, “with a whip and a chair?”
I like my husband just the way he is. One of the best parts of our relationship is that neither of us has ever thought of the other as a home improvement project -- “Marry the man today and change his ways tomorrow” Syndrome.
For many years, Fritz had this little statue standing on a rock out in the field just north of the Center’s parking lot. It was a gift from a close friend who eventually found THE man and now lives in Pennsylvania. It was made of concrete in a mold, stands 20 inches high, and in terms of style the1930s seems like a good bet for the time of its creation. A manly farmer in coveralls, he holds three shafts of wheat in one hand and the sickle with which he cut them in the other.
As the years went by and the bushes spread around it, the figure would disappear from May through October, appearing again with the falling of the leaves. Cracks had appeared in the surface with weathering, so I spoke with Fritz suggesting it be repaired and mounted on a piece of tree that had been cut down some while ago with a flat surface that could serve as the pedestal. He agreed. I soaked the tip of the wood in preservative for three days and gave the rest of it two coats.
So, as of today, he looks really good. The cracks turned out to be only as deep as the priming and the original finishing coats of masonry paint. I filled them with an exterior grade spackle, and sprayed him with a pale ivory paint we picked this morning. It will be a couple of days before I get it set into the soil in the middle of the new herb garden -- pictures then.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
My first thought is to propose a Symposium on French opera. I grew up with French and Italian in my home. All four of my grandparents were immigrants, my father's parents from Italy and France, my mother's from England. The grandparents were all involved with classical music and opera in some way -- my parents had no interest in either. So, the old saying about things skipping generations worked out in my case: I took to New York City's concert halls, theaters and opera houses like a duck to water as a boy and grew up to make my entire career in the performing arts and related skills.
French as a language and French opera aren't all that popular in the U.S. as they once were (and the Bush administration, of course, demonized the French to the point of idiocy). The operas and the music in them are wonderful, however, and are a subject I've not really touched in the previous four programs. I have two possible titles in mind: "Seductresses, Sinners and Saints: the Sensual World of French Opera" and "Beyond Carmen: the Seductive Art of French Opera". Either way I want the idea of seduction in there -- French opera is fueled by the sexy growl of the French mezzo-soprano.
The barn got a new roof this week. The storm with the 90mphwinds a month or so ago ripped a lot of shingles off the old roof and the place was leaking badly. I suggested Frits think about a metal roof this time for several reasons, not the least of which being that metal is cheaper. It can also look great; I've noticed that a lot of the older houses in the immediate area are getting metal roofs and the look seems just right.
We chose a brick red color and it was finished late this afternoon. A nice little side benefit is that our roofer cut several pieces of the left-over scrap into the sizes I need to roof the little firewood rack I'm building for us up at the house.
This is Starr in her "I'm ready for my tummy rub now, Mr. de Mille!" pose.
Monday, April 12, 2010
Signs of Spring
The watering system is all in place and hooked up this summer.
Rain falling on the solar panels drains into a gutter at the base, and through a drain pipe into the first of two rain barrels, the overflow from which fills the lower one. We can use the water from these either to fill watering cans or for drip irrigation.
Peas, for which Fritz natural branches for support, and radishes are up.
The three new dwarf peach trees are all well into bloom.
One of several banks of daffodils on the property, with the Center above.
One of our friends built us a bird house made from a hollowed-out section of birch trunk two years ago. We hung it outside our bedroom window but it didn't attract any birds last spring. this morning, a pair of chickadees spent some time examining it, the male standing on top as guard, the female on the little branch outside the entrance checking out the inside. We're not sure if they've decided to move in yet but are hoping they do.
I built a little deck outside our bedroom for these two beautifully simple Adirondack chairs. They were a gift from a dear colleague at MIT who had them built to his own specs, but then had to move and couldn't use them in his new place. We often sit for a while in the late afternoon with tea before heading inside to start dinner
I'm giving a two day symposium on Richard Wagner out in Greenfield, MA, Wednesday of this week being the second and last section. It's the fourth year that I've been invited to present, which is a pleasure because everyone out there is great to work with and the audience is both strongly attentive and fun to play to.
I prepare a bibliography for them to take away as a guide to further exploration and this year provided them with copies of excerpts of Wagner's infamous essay "Jewishness in Music" because his antisemitism is a necessary part of any Wagner study.
I told them going into the first session that I would answer a probable question right away because it was sure to come up: "how is it that such a disagreeable and bigoted person like Wagner could write such great music?" And I gave them my standard reply: that it has never, ever, been a requirement of Nature that Talent and Virtue walk hand-in-hand.
This one is pure fun, a Bayreuth Festival souvenir book that folds open into a panorama of the theater Wagner designed specifically for the production of his work.
Sunday, April 04, 2010
ALL Wagner, ALL the time!
It's over a week since my last blog entry; a week filled with preparations for the Richard Wagner symposium I'm giving on the next two Wednesdays. Greenfield Community College in north-central Massachusetts an excellent, very well run symposium program. I was invited four years ago to give an Introduction to Opera program which went very nicely and I have been invited back ever since. In succeeding years I've offered a program on Mozart and one on the four giants of nineteenth century Italian Opera: Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi.
Wagner is a huge topic. I'm using my usual audio-visual aids. I always have a photo array of portraits, pictures of relevant theaters and other sites, and productions both historical and modern to illustrate the evolution of interpretation of a composer's body of work. I also make up a pre-edited tape of music cued to my text. There will also be some video cues because an opera is first and foremost a combination of arts meant to be experienced together in performance on a stage.
The music cues this year will not be simply a medly of "Wagner's Greatest Hits" but excerpts chosen to highlight the progression of Wagner's use of musical style and motifs to establish the orchestra as an equal partner with the characters on stage rather than an accompaning ensemble.
I also use a great deal of humor because it can illuminate aspects of a subject and it keeps the audience engaged. Here are several examples, comments by some famous names on Wagner and is music:
* Wagner’s music is better than it sounds – Mark Twain
* Wagner has great moments but dull quarter hours – Rossini
* Every time I listen to Wagner, I get the urge to invade Poland
– Woody Allen
* I like Wagner’s music better than any other music. It is so loud that one can talk the whole time, without people hearing what one says.
– Oscar Wilde
* Listening to the Prelude to Tristan und Isolde puts me in mind of the painting of the Italian saint whose intestines are slowly being unwound from his body on a reel.
– Edward Hanslick (Viennese critic and Wagner's critical nemesis)
There will also be a reading assignment, a not very pleasant one. No responsible study of Wagner can dodge his antisemitism and the still controversial use of Wagner's work by Adolph Hitle and the Nazi propganda machine. I will have copies of Wagner's Essay Das Judenthum in der Musik (usually translated Jews in Music, perhaps more accurately as Jewishness or Judiasm in Music) for them to read. The second session will close with a look at the history of the Wagner family and the Bayreuth Festival after the composer's death, through their connection with the Third Reich, into the present and the current generation's promise to open all the family's archives and allow the full story to come out at last.
We spent much of the day digging and planting on the property. Fritz had already put in radishes, peas and turnips all of which are sprouted and nicely on their way. Other seeds and young plants will go in as the season develops. The one bad news of the spring is the failure of the maple sap from our trees. The crucial temperature shift -- warm days, and nights safely blow freezing -- happened only sporadically. By the time we had enough sap to begin boiling it down, the earliest sap collected had begun to ferment and become scummy. It's a huge disappointment.